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Formative Assessment vs. Summative Assessment: What's the Difference?

Edited by Janet White || By Harlon Moss || Updated on October 16, 2023
Formative assessment gauges learning during instruction, while summative assessment evaluates knowledge at the end of a unit or course.

Key Differences

Formative assessment is ongoing and used by educators to monitor student learning and inform instruction, while summative assessment evaluates a student's mastery after instruction is completed.
Teachers use formative assessment to identify gaps in learning, modify teaching methods, and support students in real-time. Summative assessment, on the other hand, provides a final judgment on a student's grasp of content or skills.
Feedback from formative assessment is often immediate and helps students understand where they stand, whereas summative assessment usually culminates in a grade or score reflecting overall performance.
While formative assessment might include quizzes, discussions, or projects, summative assessment typically encompasses final exams, standardized tests, or end-of-term projects.
The goal of formative assessment is to foster growth and improvement, guiding both teacher and student actions. Summative assessment aims to certify learning, often for external audiences or to fulfill curriculum standards.

Comparison Chart


Monitor learning & inform instruction
Evaluate overall mastery of content or skills


Ongoing during instruction
At the end of a unit, term, or course


Immediate and for growth
Typically summarized as a grade or score


Quizzes, discussions, drafts
Final exams, standardized tests, end-of-term projects

Primary Goal

Support learning and identify gaps
Certify learning and fulfill standards

Formative Assessment and Summative Assessment Definitions

Formative Assessment

Monitors student progress.
Teachers use formative assessment to check understanding daily.

Summative Assessment

Often used for grading.
End-of-term projects serve as a summative assessment.

Formative Assessment

Supports student self-assessment.
Through formative assessment, students reflect on their own growth.

Summative Assessment

Summarizes learning outcomes.
The summative assessment provided a comprehensive view of achievements.

Formative Assessment

Guides instructional adjustments.
Formative assessment results prompted a review of the topic.

Summative Assessment

Occurs at the end of instruction.
Students took a summative assessment after the unit's completion.

Formative Assessment

Provides real-time feedback.
Students benefit from immediate insights via formative assessment.

Summative Assessment

Evaluates overall learning.
The summative assessment determined the final grade for the course.

Formative Assessment

Aids in identifying learning gaps.
Formative assessment highlighted areas needing extra attention.

Summative Assessment

Determines course or grade advancement.
The summative assessment results decide if students progress to the next level.


And for summative assessment?

To evaluate and certify overall mastery at the end of instruction.

Is formative assessment graded?

Not always, its primary purpose is feedback and growth.

When is formative assessment typically used?

Continuously during the instructional process.

When do educators use summative assessment?

At the end of a unit, term, or course.

Are standardized tests a form of summative assessment?

Yes, they evaluate overall knowledge or skills.

What feedback do students receive from formative assessment?

Immediate and actionable feedback for improvement.

Can students benefit from both types of assessments?

Absolutely, both offer valuable insights into learning.

Is one assessment type superior to the other?

No, both serve essential and complementary roles in education.

Can formative assessment boost student confidence?

Yes, ongoing feedback can bolster understanding and confidence.

Can technology aid in both types of assessments?

Yes, digital tools can enhance feedback, analysis, and administration of both assessments.

Can quizzes be considered formative assessment?

Yes, if used to gauge understanding and inform instruction.

Does summative assessment influence teaching methods?

Less so, as it evaluates after instruction concludes.

Are discussions a form of formative assessment?

Yes, they can gauge understanding and promote learning.

Are final projects always summative assessments?

Often, but they can have formative elements during the creation process.

What's the primary purpose of formative assessment?

To monitor and support ongoing student learning.

Does summative assessment always result in a grade?

Typically, it culminates in a grade or score.

Is feedback from summative assessment detailed?

Not always, it often summarizes overall performance.

What's a primary challenge with summative assessment?

It may not capture a full picture of a student's abilities.

Do both assessments require external standardization?

Not necessarily. Formative is often informal, while summative might align with external standards.

Can formative assessment guide lesson planning?

Yes, it helps teachers adjust instruction based on student needs.
About Author
Written by
Harlon Moss
Harlon is a seasoned quality moderator and accomplished content writer for Difference Wiki. An alumnus of the prestigious University of California, he earned his degree in Computer Science. Leveraging his academic background, Harlon brings a meticulous and informed perspective to his work, ensuring content accuracy and excellence.
Edited by
Janet White
Janet White has been an esteemed writer and blogger for Difference Wiki. Holding a Master's degree in Science and Medical Journalism from the prestigious Boston University, she has consistently demonstrated her expertise and passion for her field. When she's not immersed in her work, Janet relishes her time exercising, delving into a good book, and cherishing moments with friends and family.

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